Dogs accurately detect COVID-19 at airports | Health & Fitness

Roberto Preidt

TUESDAY, May 17, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Dogs’ ultrasensitive noses can detect illegal drugs and even cancer, and a new study suggests they might also sniff out COVID-19 in airline passengers.

Not only that, these trained canines can do it with an accuracy comparable to a PCR nose-and-throat swab test, the researchers noted.

“Our preliminary observations suggest that dogs primed with one type of virus can be retrained within a few hours to detect its variants,” Anu Kantele and colleagues report in the May 16 issue of the journal. BMJ Global Health. Kantele is a professor of infectious diseases at the University Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine in Helsinki, Finland.

Dogs have an excellent sense of smell. They can detect an odor at levels as low as one part per billion, far outperforming any available mechanical method, the authors said in background notes.

Dogs are believed to be able to learn about specific volatile organic compounds released by various metabolic processes in the body, including those caused by bacterial, viral and parasitic infections.

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In this study, four dogs previously trained to detect illicit drugs, dangerous goods, or cancers were trained for a few weeks to sniff out SARS-CoV-2.

Each of the dogs sniffed skin swab samples from 114 people who tested positive for the virus in a PCR swab test (including 28 without symptoms) and from 306 who tested negative. The two types of COVID tests are PCR and antigen.

Overall, the dogs were 92% successful at detecting infected people and 91% successful at detecting uninfected people. Of samples from the 28 infected people without symptoms, the dogs were just over 89% successful at identifying them as positive, the researchers found.

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The researchers then tested the dogs at the Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport in Finland between September 2020 and April 2021. They were asked to put their noses on incoming passengers who had undergone PCR tests.

The dogs correctly identified 296 (99%) of 300 passengers with negative PCR results, but identified three PCR-positive individuals as negative. Further analysis showed that one of those three people was not infected, one likely had a positive post-infection test, and one actually had the virus, according to the study.

Because the infection rate among airline passengers was so low (less than 0.5 percent), the researchers presented the dogs with swabs from 155 people who had tested positive for a PCR test. The dogs correctly identified just under 99% of them as positive.

If these samples had been included in the actual airport tests, the dogs would have been 97% successful at detecting infected people and 99% successful at detecting uninfected people, according to Kantele’s team.

Based on these results, the researchers calculated the true positive rate (TPR) and true negative rate (TPR) in two hypothetical scenarios with population infection rates of 40% and 1%.

For the 40% infection rate, they estimated that dogs would achieve a PPV of 88% and NPV of 94.5%, meaning that the use of dogs would increase the chance of detection to around 90%. For the 1% population infection rate, dogs would achieve a PPV of just under 10% and an NPV of just under 100%.

In both scenarios, the high NPV supports the use of sniffer dogs for COVID-19 detection to exclude people who do not need a PCR swab test, according to the study authors.

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This use of dogs could be especially important in the early stages of a pandemic, when other resources may not be available, and also to help contain an ongoing pandemic, the team suggested.

But while these findings are promising, they need to be confirmed under real-life conditions.

The American Lung Association has more about dogs sniffing covid-19.

SOURCE: BMJ Global Healthpress release, May 16, 2022

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